Cyber-Security Blues


Cyber-Security Blues

Aug 7, 2009 2 min read
James Jay Carafano

Senior Counselor to the President and E.W. Richardson Fellow

James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.

The White House is having trouble filling its "cyber- security czar" slot? Big surprise.

Sometimes being the guy "in charge" just means having a big target painted on your back. The last Russian czar, Nicholas II, was slaughtered along with his family in a melee of gunfire and stabbing bayonets.

Sure, President Obama's "cyber-security czar" is unlikely to meet such a grisly fate. But whoever takes the job shouldn't expect a lot of ticker-tape parades, either.

A few days ago, Melissa Hathaway, who'd temporarily held the post of coordinator-in-chief for cyber-policy, resigned for "personal reasons." That's Washington-speak for "you can't pay me enough to do this."

A veteran intelligence officer and cyber guru, Hathaway led Obama's top-level review recommending a policy shake-up in the White House. When she says she has no interest in the top job, there must be something really wrong.

Hathaway's fade-away explains reports that several other top experts offered the position have also turned down the chance to join the Obama A-list.

This all started when Larry Summers, director of the National Economic Council, found out about the president's cyber plan. He decided his council, which vets government policies that affect the private sector, should have a piece of the pie. After all, the private sector owns about 85 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure (everything from banking systems to the electrical grid), and almost all that stuff runs by computers.

Unlike King Solomon, President Obama went ahead and split the baby. He decided the cyber czar would report to both the National Security Council and to Summers' National Economic Council.

Now nobody wants the job because nobody wants to report to so many bosses.

In fairness, Summers has a point. If some unaccountable czar comes up with some wacky scheme that mucks up the economy, that would be like reorganizing the security guards on the Titanic. Cyber-policies that don't allow America to be top competitor in the information economy could be just as deadly as a cyber Pearl Harbor.

Still, all the political maneuvering has gridlocked the effort to find a top cop for the information superhighway. White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro still claims that cyber-security is "a major priority for the president." But so far, it's all talk and no action.

Where Obama failed as president was in figuring out how to square the circle -- giving Americans cyber-leadership that will keep them safe, free and prosperous. But maybe we should have expected that.

After all, the administration lobbied to get a billion dollars in "cash for clunkers," but couldn't find a billion to fully fund missile defense or the F-22 fighter plane. Clunker cash just props up failing car companies; another billion for missile defense and combat planes would have saved good American jobs and protected the nation.

Clearly, this White House has a problem figuring out how to make guns and butter. But it's running out of time to get it right. The clock is ticking on both the state of the economy and national security. We are losing jobs daily -- and also secrets.

Every day, China conducts a D-Day landing on the doorstep of computer systems at the Pentagon and US corporations. Since 2007, we've seen major cyber-attacks on Estonia, Georgia and South Korea.

Unless the White House gets its act together, we may wake up one morning without jobs or working computers.

James Jay Carafano is Senior Research Fellow in national security policy at The Heritage Foundation.

First Appeared in the New York Post